Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I'll Raise Ya

This year, I got a pretty good raise for where I work, something approaching 3%.  Or did I?  Did I get a raise?  Was it that high?  (Already, some people reading this, who work where I do, are going, you got a 3% raise?  That's way more than I got.  Some people who don't work where I work are going, a 3% raise is a good raise where you work?  That's pathetic!)

Welcome to the concept of "the raise" in 2013.  Because of the massive income inequality we live under, a raise like mine is either manna from heaven or an indication that an employer thinks that the raisee should look for a different line of work.

Back to my situation.  The reason I raise the question 'Did I get a raise?' at all is because I don't think I did, even though I was told I did and because my paycheck next year will say that I did.  The reality, though, is something different.  In fact, I have taken on an additional duty next year and it is one that I am being compensated for, so I don't really think it's a raise.  It's just another job.

Where I work, you get paid for everything that you do.  So, up to a point, the more that you do, the more that you get paid.  Which is fair, I suppose, but it isn't a raise.

Really, what is a raise?  Is it a reward for past work?  Is it a promise on the part of the person who receives it for more work or better work, a higher level of work?  Does a person get a raise for longevity or for skill?

Beyond that, on a national level, is a raise a raise if it doesn't give the person who receives it more money to spend?  In other words, even if you get more money, if inflation or the cost of living where you are increases more than the percentage you get, is that a raise?

Is a raise a raise if it isn't actually money, or at least not a permanent increase in pay?  Is it a raise if it is a perk, if everyone gets it equally or if it only applies to certain people in certain situations?  

Arguably, and I'm speaking nationally, not where I work, the worst thing that has happened economically in recent years is that our expectations for a raise have diminished so much that a) we are grateful if we get a larger-than-average raise, even if it is small or b) we are resentful of another's pitiful raise if it is less pitiful than our own or c) we begrudge union employees the contracts that their unions negotiated for them, citing the need for employers to make more money as somehow serving the greater good or else granting employers the right to decide that wages are where the necessary cuts must come from or d) we treat top management's raises with disgruntlement but, ultimately, acceptance.

There was a phenomenon Frederick Douglass noted in his autobiography that if you were a slave, you at least wanted to be able to boast that you master was wealthier than the master of the slaves at a different plantation.  Those were bragging rights.

So we scrap and scramble, demean and gossip, judge and jury if we think someone else who works for who we work for is making more than he or she should.  As if he or she were at fault, in a capitalistic society, for finding a way to get a little extra for his or her family, maybe at the expense of us, more likely as an affront to us because we didn't or wouldn't do the same thing out of principle or pride.  Would we really feel better if they didn't have that money either?

What I don't like about a raise ( though I've never turned one down!) is that, most of the time, unless it's a huge sum, it isn't real recognition of good work.  It's just a payment for services to be rendered.  And in that conception of a raise, the ceiling is pretty low because any of us can only do so much.   It's either playing catch-up or assuaging someone's guilt.  It's someone telling me how he or she fought for me to get the raise and my having to thank him or her when he or she doesn't want to be thanked because, above all, a raise is not a gift, prize, or present, but sometimes we have to act like it is and none of us on either side of the raise want to have to witness that spectacle.

Truth be told,  give me a bonus instead of a raise any day of the week.  Not a blanket, everyone-gets-one bonus, but a you've-made-this-place-more-viable kind of bonus, a substantial and tangible recognition of a job well done.  Today's typical raise doesn't do that.  I can't think of the last raise I've received where I noticed a substantial difference on my paycheck each month.  You give me $80 more a month?  Well, I can tell you, the government is taking at least a quarter of that.  Beyond that we're talking about one trip to the grocery or, depending, one tank or so of gas.  And I was going to get those anyway.  And health care went up more than that, too.  So, what?

1 comment:

G. B. Miller said...

I used to remember that old concept of getting a raise for doing good work, but where I work, a raise is something that others use as a carrot to avoid being punished.

Plus, where I work, 3% is the norm, but as of late, that will be offset by the following:

1) 5% increase in health insurance premimums;
2) 3% contribution to retiree health insurance;
3) 1% contribution towards being able to retire under the old rules.

So yeah, while a raise is normally a good thing, it's not when you don't even get a chance to enjoy it.